BICEP: Business Muscle Where It's Needed Most

By Anne Kelly
Director of Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy (BICEP)

This column highlights selected groups and organizations working to promote social and economic justice, environmental leadership, or corporate accountability. Walden often supports the work of featured groups and partners in research and advocacy initiatives.

December 2007: Nike Headquarters, Portland, Ore.
Like most stakeholder meetings led by Ceres, this one was chock-full of subject matter experts, investors, academics, NGOs, and senior Nike managers. All were zeroing in on a climate change action strategy for the iconic brand known for its leadership in improving labor practices, creating environmentally preferable materials in its manufacturing, and expert sustainability reporting. As colorful flip charts filled the walls with recommendations about Nike’s next steps, one person – Brad Figel, then director of government affairs – raised his hand. “It is great for Nike to try to reduce its own carbon footprint and to pursue energy efficiency,” he said. “But unless and until we make systemic change through Capitol Hill, nothing is really going to happen to move the needle on climate change.”

The room went quiet. Brad was right. Although up to this point the focus had been on the singular, voluntary action of one company in a vast sector, collective action among like-minded consumer brands was tantalizing.

BICEP Launched
In November 2008, BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy) was born, thanks to Ceres, Nike and the four other companies1 that were willing to stand up in public and call for climate policy action. Today, BICEP has 30 member companies and has stayed the course through the uncertain terrain of the past five and a half years, weighing in on policy whenever possible. From the Waxman-Markey Bill (the American Clean Energy and Security Act) to protecting AB32 in California to advocating for strong federal fuel economy standards, individual BICEP members have sought to transcend partisan politics and make the business case for action.

Have they succeeded? Not entirely. Have they given up? Never.

In a move toward post-partisanship, the BICEP companies re-wrote their core principles in 2010 after the failure of legislation at the federal level. No longer calling for “cap and trade,” the principles became less prescriptive and focused on broad strategies and recommendations around energy efficiency, renewable energy, clean transportation, and U.S. leadership at the international level.

In early 2012, when it became clear that climate change had become politically toxic and appeared to have fallen off the radar of the popular press, BICEP companies coalesced around an inclusive, winning narrative that enshrines the not-so-obvious link between solving the climate crisis and economic opportunity. The Climate Declaration – a can-do message celebrating America’s legacy of overcoming challenges – was designed to enlarge the tent for potential business messengers who would provide policy makers with the economic cover they needed to press for aggressive measures.

In a matter of weeks, nearly 500 companies added their names to the Climate Declaration in agreement. In his famous speech at Georgetown in June 2013, President Obama used the Declaration in precisely the way Ceres and BICEP had intended. After making the case for the cost-effectiveness of his Climate Action Plan, he said, “But don’t take my word for it… over 500 [companies], including GM and Nike, have signed on to the Climate Declaration…” The Climate Declaration has since been held up as a proof point for corporate support of climate policies countless times on the House and Senate floor and in committee meetings. Now there are 800 companies on board and more companies are joining each week. Notably, an influential group of California companies who signed the Climate Declaration specifically called for the protection of AB32.

Now, nearly one year after the release of the Declaration, the President announced draft Carbon Pollution Standards for power plants – the crown jewel of his Climate Action Plan – to address the largest source of carbon pollution in the United States. Ceres and BICEP are encouraging other companies to stand in support of the President’s standards. Businesses tend to reflexively reject Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules, so it is worth noting the number and nature of the leading companies willing to stand with the President on this issue.

Once in place, the new EPA rules will be the single largest step to reduce CO2 taken by any country in the world, and again demonstrate America’s resolve in the face of immense challenges. Thoughtful business support for these standards is critical over the next six months and will need to trump the inevitable resistance from various trade groups.

Meanwhile, BICEP members and peer companies continue to recruit new business champions who are helping the United States transition to a clean energy economy. The coalition is also looking ahead to the Paris 2015 climate summit, seeking to pave the way for a progressive business voice to be heard and to have an impact at the international level. 

Walden is an active member of Ceres and a signatory to the Climate Declaration.

1 BICEP's founding companies: LS&Co., Nike, Starbucks, Sun Microsystems, and Timberland.

From the Summer 2014 Edition of Values